Entry to the Haruman (Monkey God) Temple, Ayodhya

Ayodhya: Visit to Babri Masjid/Ram Janmabhumi Temple, 29.5.2017

The location of the site is in Ayodhya city but in open land to the southwest of the city centre.  The main road leading to the entry point is lined with shops but is not as busy as the centre. Some shops are shut and look unused. Possible indication of a) it is no longer thoroughfare as the road ends at a police checkpoint, b) the number of pilgrims and worshippers may have declined due to the difficulties of access. About 50 yards from the first check point is a lowered boom to prevent cars, trucks and autos entering.  We are on a scooter and duck our heads under the boom and continue to the checkpoint turning to the left just before to some waste ground where we park the scooter and lock all our metal valuables – watches, phones – under the seat. From the waste ground I can see the site behind to rows of high mesh barricades topped with barbed wire and two 50 metre watch towers. I cannot see any ancient structures. Unusually for late May, it starts to rain. I have a mack, my companions do not.

At the first check point I have to submit my passport for examination to an official sitting in an open fronted “office”.  This is not intrusive, they are taking down the same information as a hotel receptionist does. Then I cross the road to go through a scanner which does not seem to be working and am frisked by hand (no hand scanner) and allowed to proceed. We walk about 100 metres down a road with shops on both sides, mostly closed but some open selling household goods and temple souvenirs. At Check point 2 we are all frisked again, we turn left and pass through another scanner.  As it is raining heavily now, we wait under cover beside the scanner.  The atmosphere is jovial, the police are formal but not tense.  There is little chat between them and those waiting.

We then continue up an unpaved road walled on both sides, which then becomes a high metal fence with mesh and barbed wire on the top, on both sides. On the right we pass a system of crowd management as in airport border controls but this is made of metal.  It reminds me of Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank. It is used at peak visiting times particularly around holy days. We then come to Check point 3 where there is another scanner and we are frisked again. We enter a narrow corridor, one person wide, made of mesh and covered with mesh at the ceiling.  The corridor is full and there are people ahead and behind us. It winds through the site.  Outside the meshed corridor on both sides there are Rapid Action Force, a division of the police force, personnel carrying automatic weapons but moving about in a relaxed fashion and also relaxing themselves. Some are having a meal in a small canteen. 

After about 20 metres we come to Check Point Four where we go through another scanner and are frisked again, more thoroughly this time.  The atmosphere is a different – either anticipation by the Ram devotees or tension on the part the security forces. The mesh corridor winds through the site rising as the contours rise and twisting round so that we pass a rough canvas tent which is shading  small shrine, not bigger than a small wardrobe, in which an effigy of the Lord Ram sits. It is about 15 metres away on a small mound with no decoration or embellishments around it.  I am not expecting this nor, the sudden opening in the mesh where a priest sits doling out holy water for your finger tips and presenting small bags with white balls and some flakes of a branch.  I am not sure whether I need to pay or not – I see money around, but am told not to, and am directed by my companions to observe the shrine.  There are people behind me pushing to see as well and I get flustered, I do not think  Namaste is the right thing so just bow and say quietly Ram Ram, then move on. Nobody had more than a few seconds at the portal.

The atmosphere changes again.  There is greater joviality.  One of the RAF officers on the other side of the meshed corridor calls out to me and asks where I am from and if I know David Beckham.  I say he is my cousin (joke), shake his finger tips through the mesh and carry on down the corridor until we come out onto to some waste ground.  I cannot recall exactly where but I think it is close to where we parked the scooter. At some place nearby we pass shops selling Temple souvenirs, mostly flowers, effigies, but also DVDs of the destruction of the mosque in 1992. The scenes are graphic depicting an excited mob attacking the domes of the mosque with sledge hammers and iron bars. In addition to the wait under cover, the visit took around 40 minutes.

 

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